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Cats hungry in teaching dubs

HOME comforts. It's one of the few logical reasons to predict a Sky Blue victory parade on the cusp of St Patrick's Day.

Kilkenny travelled to Ennis on the opening day of the league and lost. Then they welcomed Tipperary, followed by Galway, and dispatched the two of them in a pointless state from Nowlan Park.

Dublin, meanwhile, have also revealed themselves to be bad travellers and unforgiving hosts.

We've had a day-one debacle in Galway followed by an invigorating backlash at home to Clare followed by a performance in Waterford last Sunday that, for all the perspiration on offer, was devoid of inspiration – not to mention the end product of points.

Thus, we've reached the penultimate round of Division 1A with Dublin ambitions balanced on a precarious knife-edge. Does another rousing response beckon? If so, and victory ensues, then Anthony Daly's men will approach their last-day trip to Tipp in rude health, not reliant on others for quarter-final favours.

But if they lose tonight? Then the last day in Thurles will be about survival.

AMBUSH

Now, as the above preamble indicates, there is one compelling, statistical reason to suggest Dublin can repeat the heroics of last summer's Leinster semi-final ambush.

Most other reasons, however, point towards the Black-and-Amber.

Speaking to the hearld, Jackie Tyrrell was keen to downplay any suggestion revenge will feature in Kilkenny motivations. Maybe so ... and yet, knowing Brian Cody and Kilkenny as we do, the spectre of Portlaoise will be hovering in the visitors' dressing-room.

Whether said or unsaid, Kilkenny will rail against the notion of a Dublin team believing they can consistently get the measure of their one-time nemesis. Kilkenny have already atoned for last June once this year – they won the Walsh Cup final by four points with a relative degree of comfort – but they'll be keen to reinforce that message with something more important at stake.

That said, from a Kilkenny perspective, this year's league is less about winning it and more about broadening the horizons of summer selection. Names unknown and faces unfamiliar beyond Kilkenny are being tried out in every line. A clutch of decorated veterans have seen more time on the bench than on the pitch thus far. "There's a realisation that places are up for grabs," Cody underlined after last Sunday's 2-16 to 1-16 win over Galway.

On the same day, Dublin were losing by an identical margin (1-13 to 1-10) in Waterford. No shame in that, you might say; yet it was a mishmash of a display in which Dublin struggled to rise above quagmire conditions.

For 38 minutes (until Conor McCormack's late red) they played with an extra man and you'd never have guessed. That may be partly attributable to Déise heroics in defence, but the stats are still an indictment of Dublin's lack of fluency.

Consider the following. Three starting forwards didn't score from play. The entire team, playing with numerical supremacy, didn't score for the first 27 minutes of the second half. Yes, several goal chances were carved out – all unconverted, until Conal Keaney's late poacher's flick – but the general quality of delivery to the inside men was often too high and hopeful, allowing Waterford full-backs to thrive.

Now, curiously, route-one ball threatened to destroy Kilkenny's quaking full-back line in the first half against Tipperary last month ... but since then the Cats have regrouped and rediscovered the winning habit. Thus, barring another thrilling backlash, being home alone won't save Dublin.

ODDS: Dublin 21/10, Draw 10/1, Kilkenny 4/9

VERDICT: Kilkenny


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